Waterloo launches new building permit Web portal

The City of Waterloo has launched an online portal that should make applying for building permits by contractors and builders a much more transparent and manageable process.

Launched in November, the portal is meant to replace an in-person government application process that limited the amount of information to which the builder was privy, said Ralph Kaminski, chief building official with the City of Waterloo.

“Now they can see the progress of their permit and whether their permit is ready to issue,” said Kaminski. “They also know which person is reviewing their application so if they have a question they can contact that person directly.”

The City receives between 1,200 to 2,800 building permit applications annually. The goal is to eventually move to an almost-entirely paperless process, but in the meantime builders have the option to apply online or in-person.

One such builder, Waterloo-based George Milla Construction Ltd., used the Web portal recently to speed up the usual laborious permit application. The four-person company’s general manager Mark Van Dongen said the online process was more flexible than the usual standard application by allowing additional material such as engineering drawings to be included.

“It’s absolutely a no-brainer for us,” said Van Dongen.

There was also the advantage of being able to apply outside of business hours which is when Van Dongen made the permit application. Normally, an in-person process would be limited to the office’s business hours.

And not only does the portal let the builder book an inspection appointment online, the inspector can log notes into the system directly following the inspection.

“It’s almost pretty much live after the inspector leaves … so anyone in the company can monitor and see where we’re at with inspections or what infractions have occurred,” said Van Dongen.

Kaminski said the portal was a year in development in-house with assistance from CSDC Systems, the vendor of the Amanda technology platform with an office in Mississauga, Ont., before going live. The original launch date was for April of the same year but IT system changes at the City, such as with the finance department’s cash system, led to compatibility issues and testing challenges.

Given the chance to do things differently, Kaminski said coordinating IT system upgrades would have ensured a shorter launch delay. But, nonetheless, he’s pleased with the results of the portal given the unique advantages it provides online applicants such as a credit card payment option, which is not available in-person.

Kaminski added that much effort was put into developing a portal consistent with those of neighbouring municipalities, given local builders likely must make permit applications across the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph.

In its initial stages, the portal is limited to permits for new residential buildings. Next up, builders will be able to make applications for sheds and swimming pool permits.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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